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US Navy aims to boost its presence in a melting Arctic

Yereth Rosen

The U.S. Navy plans to boost its knowledge of the Arctic in the next few years, preparing for what is expected to be booming growth in vessel traffic and resource expansion in future decades, according to a report issued this week that updates the Navy’s 2009 Arctic Roadmap.

From now until 2020, the Navy expects to increase its Arctic operations and training, partly through continued participation in joint military and emergency exercises as well as scientific missions, the report said. By cooperating with other agencies and academic institutions, the Navy will be able to “focus on areas where it provides unique capabilities and will leverage joint and coalition partners to fill identified gaps and seams,” the report said.

For the next few years, at least, on-scene Arctic activities will be limited to open-water periods because the Navy lacks the vessels and equipment to travel otherwise, the report said.

That situation should change in future decades, the report said. By 2030, the Navy expects to have “the necessary training and personnel to respond to contingencies and emergencies affecting national security” in the Arctic, the report said.

With summer and fall ice weakening, the open-water periods are expected to expand. By 2025, the Bering Strait should have up to 175 days of open water per year, and after 2030, the Northern Sea Route and Transpolar Route are expected to be navigable 130 days a year, the report said.

With abundant natural resources and reduced summer sea ice, the Arctic Ocean will attract growing interest from an array of nations, including non-Arctic nations, and commercial operators, the report says. But even with more ice melt, the Arctic will remain a difficult environment for travelers, and emergency-response capabilities will be increasingly important, the report says.

Contact Yereth Rosen at yereth(at)alaskadispatch.com